JON CARDINELLI analyses the key match-ups and picks the winner of the Castle Rugby Championship clash at Soccer City on Saturday.
After Wednesday's Springbok press conference in Fourways, one of the travelling media men asked me who would win Saturday's Test. I found it a difficult question to answer.
My interviewer was a patriotic Argentinian, a man who was clearly excited about the Pumas' involvement in what is the toughest annual rugby competition in the world. I felt it would be rude to hit him with the brutal truth, that this Pumas side do not have what it takes to beat the Boks on the Highveld.
The Pumas have come to South Africa with a side stacked with players who ply their trade in the European club competitions. This exposure to top-flight rugby will ensure that the Pumas remain competitive at Soccer City, but they will need to be more threatening than competitive if they hope to succeed where other Argentina sides have failed.
They come into this clash without their talismanic leader and openside flank Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, who has been ruled out of the game with a calf injury. All the talk in the build-up has been about adapting to the new scrum laws, but it is at the breakdown where the game will be won and lost.
With Lobbe watching the game from the stands instead of exerting his influence at ground zero, the Pumas will be at a great disadvantage. Conversely, the Boks will be stronger for the presence of loose-forwards Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen.
Neither player featured in the Boks' battle against the Pumas in Mendoza last year. It was in that game where the Boks were physically outplayed by the Pumas, particularly at the breakdown. They were fortunate to escape with a draw.
On this occasion, the Boks will go into the contest with a good idea of what to expect. They will also have two of the finest breakdown exponents in their ranks.
With Vermeulen's physicality and Louw's ball-poaching ability, the Boks will be the big favourites to win the collisions and thus dictate the flow of the game.
The Pumas will attempt to take the game deep, they will try to stay in touch on the scoreboard for as long as possible. Their task will be that much more difficult without Lobbe, but they certainly have the tactics to keep the Boks honest.
Graham Henry had clearly left his mark on this Pumas side. According to Bok coach Heyneke Meyer, the Pumas are now shepherding attacking players into the wider channels and then attempting to counter-ruck and win possession – a tactic used by Henry's All Blacks in past years.
Again, talk in the build-up has been about the Bok attack, but it is the defence that will really be under scrutiny this weekend.
Bok flyhalf Morné Steyn made the comment on Wednesday that South Africa can't afford to make the same mistakes against this Pumas side. Steyn recalled the 2012 contest in Mendoza where the Boks played too much rugby in their own half.
Steyn is adamant that this Saturday will witness a more controlled showing. The Boks intend to make use of exciting players such as Willie le Roux, JJ Engelbrecht, and Bryan Habana, but they will not be taking too many risks in their own territory. An all-out attacking approach would only play into the Pumas' hands, as it did last year in Mendoza.
The Boks have promised to build on their most recent showing against Samoa. They hope to dish out the physical punishment early on in the fixture, to obliterate the Argentinian resistance. As the game progresses, the Boks should start to open up. It is in the second half where players like Le Roux will look to counter-attack rather than play for field position.
Whether the Boks score four tries or not will depend on how physically dominant they are in contact, and how accurate they are at the breakdown.
The Pumas will do well to remain competitive for 50 to 60 minutes, but then fatigue will take its toll and the Boks will look to punish that tiring defence to the full extent.
MY CALL: Boks by at least 12
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Fourie du Preez, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Argentina – 15 Juan Martin Hernandez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Felipe Contepomi (c), 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Matías Diaz, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Juan Figallo.
Subs: 16 Agustín Creevy, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Julio Farias Cabello, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Santiago Fernandez, 23 Horacio Agulla.
Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images
Jake gambles on Reinach
A new halfback combination in Charl McLeod and Pat Lambie would have lent the Sharks some much-needed stability in the crunch semi-final in Christchurch, writes JON CARDINELLI.
‘Sharks discipline was excellent’
What former Springbok coach NICK MALLETT had to say on SuperSport about the Super Rugby play-off qualifiers.
Chavhanga rewards White’s faith
Jake White’s loyalty to and investment in his players have paid off handsomely for the Sharks, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.